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It was a brave move to establish a business in Feakle, County Clare, when Michael and Anne Fitzgerald opened a grocery, bar and tailors in the town in the 1890s.
At that time, the land war was at its height in Co. Clare. Falling prices for agricultural produce meant tenants were unable to pay their rents. Seven miles away, the infamous Bodyke evictions had taken place in 1887, when 28 families were forcibly ejected from their homes. Publicity surrounding the evictions, which took nearly three weeks to complete, led the British government to tackle rack rents and to introduce measures that would give Irish peasant farmers ownership of their lands.
The Land League urged peaceful means of protest during the Bodyke campaign, but many of the dispossessed peasantry took the law into their own hands and joined a secret agrarian society, headed by the mysterious Captain Moonlight, to attack landlords' property, particularly their livestock. These attacks, known locally as "moonlighting", in turn prompted reprisals, creating a spiral of violence.
In these troubled times, the Fitzgeralds were fortunate to remain in business. One reason they might have survived was Michael's physical stature: at 6 feet 6 inches in height, he would have been a giant of a man at a time when many of the local population would have been malnourished.
The couple had three children, but their two sons, like their father, died of arthritic fever and in 1927 the pub was inherited by their daughter, Bridget. During her time as licensee, the pub comprised a small bar, a snug across the hallway from the bar and a kitchen which had a serving hatch connected to the pub. And though she wasn't a tailor like her father, she continued the drapery business, selling ready-made suit lengths.
In 1932, Bridget married Michael Bohan, but she remained the licensee because of Michael's job. He was a policeman, one of the first 1,200 recruits to join the Garda Síochána when it was founded in February 1922. The licensing laws, which remain in force today, forbade Garda Bohan from being on the premises while on duty. As a result, once he married, Michael was transferred from Feakle to Ennis. For the next 22 years, until his retirement in 1954, Garda Bohan lived permanently in Ennis, cycling the 18 miles home once a month to spend the night with his wife and family.
These visits home usually coincided with the village's monthly fair when cattle and sheep were sold by local farmers, says the current licensee, Seamus Bohan, son of Michael and Bridget. He says his father's presence was often needed. "Farmers, if they sold cattle, would have a few drinks, but their capacity for drink would have been small, as their food intake wouldn't have been great and they wouldn't have been used to consuming alcohol," he says. "As a result they would get drunk very easily and as a follow-up, invariably fights would take place, especially with regards to civil war politics, particularly as de Valera was the local TD."
Following Michael's retirement at the age of 52, he and Bridget ran the pub together until Michael died in 1972, when Seamus became more directly involved in running the business. Following his mother's death in 1980, he became licensee.
Seamus demolished the old bar, snug and kitchen in 1981, replacing them with a larger, more modern, building, able to accommodate 50 people, but decorated in an "old world" style, furnished with rope chairs and an open fireplace. In 1990, he added a function room that can accommodate up to 250 people and which is one of the main venues during Feakle's Traditional Music Weekend, which is held on the weekend following the August Bank Holiday.
According to Seamus, the pub did not have draught Guinness until the 1970s. Before then, the black stuff was bought from wholesale bottling companies:
Hassett's in Ennis or Twoomey's or O'Byrne's who were based in Limerick.
Limerick's Guinness arrived from Dublin by barge via the Grand Canal and the Shannon. Seamus says: "An old boatman, Dinny Weir, told me it was very pleasant work: they had a way of loosening the hoops on the barrels and getting at the stout inside during the journey. After they had their sup, they would tighten up the hoops again and no one knew the barrels had been tampered with. On another occasion, during a storm, one of the barges broke free and ended up running aground in Whitegate where the locals had a week of free drink."
Inside Bohan's, it is obvious that this is a strong GAA pub, with photographs of the local Feakle hurling team dating back to 1910 and portraits of the All-Ireland winning teams of 1914 and 1932. Pride of place is given to a hurley that has been autographed by those who served on the Clare team between 1973 and 1980, when it was managed by Seamus's brother, Fr Harry Bohan, who has also been a major force in Irish rural redevelopment.
Extracts from 'The Story of the Irish Pub' by Cian Molloy, supplied with permission of the Liffey Press. For more information on the book check the Liffey Press website.